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Marquis de Sade-Bob Scofield's Ride 2010
Nightmare on Wayah
Bob Scofield is an extraordinary cyclist. He's won the North Carolina State Championship a few times and the Florida Championship. In our "team's account" he has finished first in the Cross Florida.
I first met Bob the year my daughter was born, 1988. It was about a week after my daughter was born. We were racing in a race called the "Nightmare On Wayah". Because of my daughter's birth and the celebration of her life, I had not trained properly. I rode poorly the week before the ride. My daughter was a week old. The week before the race my friends from the area in Western North Carolina and I rode part of the course. They kicked my butt.
Race day arrived and I wasn't sure of anything but suffering. We left Dillsboro, near Waynesville, NC. We rode by Western Carolina College and on to Speedwell Road. Then we were climbing Tilly Creek. I was about sixth up the mountain. Tom West and I descended down Elijay, the back side of Tilly Creek, so fast that we dropped whoever was there. We flew. We were pretty good descenders. We were flying, in my mind anyway.
Occasionally, when Tom was taking his "pull" at the front, I would look back. there was no one there. There were long winding roads behind us at times- and there was no one there.
I thought the unthinkable. Tom and I are going to finish this thing first. I looked back. I would again and again, think the unthinkable.
A dot appeared around a curve way back. It was a tiny dot. The dot was a pretty fast dot. It grew and grew. and then I thought another obvious- this "dot" is going to catch us. We couldn't stop the overtaking that would occur.
The "dot" became this incredible, strong racer. This extraordinary rider soon caught us and took charge. He gassed it- and so quickly that Tom fell off the back of us. I knew my loyalties were with Tom. Tom was wearing my team's jersey. I waited for Tom. There were roads where he and I could still work together- maybe even for an advantage. Oddly enough the strong rider eased and rode with us. He talked all the time. He was cycling savvy. He was accomplished. I can very often pick out the riders who are not pretending. there is an aura about them. They've "been there"! They wreak of "having done that"!
We rode through Franklin, NC and now we were climbing Wayah Bald. This astonishing rider kept talking. I was breathing as best I could. I was almost into the gasping phase. My legs were crying and this continuous monologue took my consciousness. I looked back. Tom was a dot. The mysterious rider was telling me about these Russian tires and God knows what-all!
Then- this rider - looked back - then - poof - he was out of sight.
i struggled alone for years it seemed. Then Brady Hamby was back. I never knew Brady before this day. Brady caught me. Brady passed me. I struggled and caught Brady's wheel and drafted. I recovered a bit. We flew down the back side of Wayah toward Nantahala. It was too late to catch mystery man.
I edged Brady at the finish by an inch or so. I'm listed as
finishing second. But come on- it was just a trick. If anything- Brady
and I finished together. It was also because thousands of people weren't there.
This mysterious "Superman" beat us all. The "dot" I once loved (because he was a dot behind) met my family, my baby. He got back on his bike and rode that 66 miles back to the start where his car was.
This was Bob Scofield.
Bob and I have shared many adventures together.We've ridden many "Assaults On Mount Mitchell". We've ridden "Six Gaps in Georgia". We've ridden many "Cross Floridas". We've ridden many other centuries and races. I've lost count. We've shared the same room and stayed awake talking till mornings on so many nights before our "battles".
He has bested me almost always. When he didn't- it rained -he crashed. The weather froze him out as it did on an icy day in Georgia. These two are the only memories I have of getting to the finish before he did. He has soundly thrashed me for decades.
Bob is an "is" and a "was". I'm a has-been-that-never-was.
So skipping ahead to 2010, we have "superman" riding with youngsters at the age 63. He's still a force to be reckoned with!
The following story is written by Bob. This is his Marquis de Sade. I rode this very ride in 2008. The pictures I offer here are from 2008. Bob didn't have his "photographer with him last week-end, March 27, 2010.
Bob is a great writer too!
Marquis de Sade- by Bob Scofield
They've got some hard rides, that's for sure! Out west there are a bunch of double centuries, among them, Seattle/Portland, always known to attract class riders, who inevitably turn it into genuine race. In the east, we've got the Assault on Mt Mitchell, Bridge to Bridge, Mountains of Misery, and a gaggle of lesser known leg-busters that are tough enough for anyone's business. The local climbers' group can be depended upon to push the pace whenever the road turns up, and so the usual suspects gathered, here in Tigerville, a tiny hamlet in the upstate of South Carolina, to ride the Marquis de Sade, billed as an eighty-mile tune up for the Assault on Mt Mitchell.
I drove down to Tigerville, early on Saturday morning. I had carefully gone over my bike, cleaning what needed to be cleaned, greasing and oiling, and prepping for the eighty-miler, but the day dawned raw and cold and I wasn't real happy about that. The sun rose and shone brightly but did not seem to generate any heat, and so it was true all day, with temperatures barely reaching fifty and a gusty wind kicking up and becoming stronger as the sun rose higher in its prominence. Like I said, I wasn't exactly thrilled by the prospect of riding on a cold day, but I reasoned that the ride might start chilly, but like so many others, it would invariably warm up. I was wrong about that, just as I was wrong about almost everything else on this day that brought me face to face with what is probably the hardest sub-hundred miler of my career. But I was dressed well, with a long-sleeved wool undershirt, thick socks, and fleece-lined knee-warmers, plus, I had just driven down from my mountain home, a distance of seventy-five miles--I was committed--and so, with little fanfare, the riders began to roll out, with me sitting near the front, resolved to do the best I could in a field of guys much, much younger and obviously stronger.
Before the start I had been greeted by Jeremy Waldroup, a lanky, early-thirties climber from the upstate, who has had turned in some remarkable finishes on the toughest mountain rides in this area, and whom I had known as a fifteen-year old, when his father drove him to the races. Touted as the next great Carolina climber, he certainly has fulfilled his promise, and I felt proud that a rider of his stature would remember and respond to me. "Have you done this one?" he asked. "No," I said, "What's it like?" In my younger days I was regarded as a more than adequate climber and had nothing to fear from the mountains. I can still hold my own--usually--and I was not particularly awed by the thought of riding eighty miles on a North Greenville course. Just two days ago, up at my place, I had gone, solo, on a fifty-miler with sumptuous climbing, and returned feeling smug and self-satisfied--bullet-proof. Jeremy grinned, "Well," he drawled, "There's a bad one along about the middle of the ride. It just goes and goes..." And then I noticed he had fitted a compact crank set on his bike. I was suddenly gripped by panic. "Shit, man, all I got is a 25, a stinkin' 39/25!" He shook his head. "Well, you'll do it. You were a great climber," and we talked about the days, twenty years ago, when he was just breaking in and I was at the top of my game. And then I thought, I'm old, if this guy is saying it's tough, then what the hell am I going to do?
But I reflected on the training I had done and I reminded myself about the group rides in Florida and how I'd stayed at the front and felt really good. In fact, just a few weeks ago I'd soloed from Miami to Palm Beach Gardens, a distance of one hundred miles, and had turned in a really good time, averaging eighteen mph, in spite of traffic and less than great riding conditions, but the little voice in my head--the one that always knows everything--spoke up, "Yeah, but that's Florida. Anyone can ride in Florida."
Later, I met up with Craig Horn, in his early fifties, a veritable wind-mill of a spinner, and probably the best climber of his age group. He was riding an old steel bike, he called his "training bike," and looked foppish in a plain jersey, while everyone else's was emblazoned with team and product logos. Later, he would ride away, as he usually does, in a small group of younger guys. We exchanged pleasantries and I knew that when the road turned up that would be the last I would see of him.
The ride began promptly, at 8:30, as we rolled off into a bitter and frosty morning. There had been a hard freeze at my place, and here, down in the foothills, it was hardly any warmer. I shivered and shook, chilled to the bone on the little descents and hung on grimly, actually hoping we'd soon make it to the first big climb where I could at least warm up. But in the first five or ten miles we must've made fifteen turns! It was endless gear changes and the stress of vehicles, though few, suddenly appearing on blind curves and the stop signs, all conspiring to confuse me and tire me out and the ride had just begun! Soon, a veritable wall appeared and we thirty or so guys, comprising the climbing group, stood on our pedals and crested the hill like a well-oiled machine. The view from the top was magnificent! It looked out over a great valley, revealing a ridge of high mountains, some miles away, and I knew we would soon come roaring down to the bottom, below.
And we did. The thing about the Marquis de Sade ride is that it is not only an extreme climb-fest, but it's also a technical and challenging ride with plenty of death-defying descents and tricky cornering. This would prove to be a good course for professional racing cyclists--that's how hard it is. The first twenty or thirty miles involved plenty of tough little walls and several fast descents, but I was able to remain connected and I was starting to feel pretty sure of myself. It certainly was not warming up much, but the hard efforts were generating a good deal of body heat and I was remembering to eat and drink so I felt pretty strong. At some point I turned to a rider and queried, "When's this big climb everyone's talking about? "White Oak Mountain; it's coming up in a mile or two." And then the road suddenly turned up.
Saluda Grade-Hwy. 176
There is simply no way to describe the difficulty of White Oak Mountain. I've done the hard climbs in the Carolinas, Georgia, Tennessee, but this giant of the upstate dwarfs everything I've seen! Soon the pack was silent, save for the hard breathing, as we grunted and pushed our way up into the clouds, leaving the valley far below.
I have a big climb just adjacent to my house known as Caldwell Mountain. It's quite steep but only goes for a mile. White Oak, to me, was like four or five Caldwell's stacked one upon another. The worst thing was the steepness. Endless switchbacks, one following the next, all on a gradient steeper than almost anything I've ever seen--that's what White Oak is all about. And it wears you down. It's not only physically draining, but it defeats one emotionally, too. You no sooner grunt through a miserable eyebrow, than another appears, and then another, and another. Is there no end to this, you think? Surely it has to flatten out at some point, but it does not seem to. It's like the death of a thousand cuts.
In fact, there are sections that loom steeper yet and one also has to watch out for cars, because the natural inclination is to take the switchbacks wide, and then swing over, but with the possibility of cars appearing in one's face, it is more advisable to simply plow through the turns, cutting them sharply, but this, of course, only adds to the steepness. There is no easy way to tame this brute, though I did quickly realize that Jeremy had the right idea by riding a compact crank, with it's 34-tooth inner ring. At least if one could remain seated--even if the speed falls off to some un-Godly slow tempo--there might be hope of traversing this thing and getting out alive!
But the heartbreaking feature of White Oak is that as one nears the top, exhausted and spent, like nothing imaginable, there seems to always be one more devilish switchback. At some point you realize why this thing is called the "Marquis de Sade."
Very Top Of White Oak
Finally, though, it did even out, at least for a moment, but then I was immediately hurled into one of the worst and most dangerous descents in the world! My friend Michael Davis is a descending ace and makes most mountains look manageable, as he glides down to the bottom, leaning far off his bike, essentially thrusting his body where he wants to go, compelling the bike, a dumb piece of metal and carbon fiber, to merely follow, but this downhill defied the common rules of descending in nearly every way! The switchbacks came, like the waves of the ocean, one after another, and each was so steep and tight that I was compelled to nearly stop the bike in each turn, for fear it would just keep going, or else flop over and slam me ignominiously to the tarmac, where I'd get creamed by the next rider coming down, and the next.
My rear brake blocks were wearing out and I was praying they would hold, because a brake failure on this mountain would not end well. Luckily, I made it down, and the leaders were actually waiting, eating and drinking at a station that had been set up by the organizers of the ride.
And into the valley we charged, our group riding full tilt, trying to reel in some escapees, who kept adding to their lead no matter how hard we went. Finally, I realized I'd soon be dropped if the pace kept up, and I struggled grimly, half because I do not like being shelled off the back, and also because the course was poorly-marked and I was afraid of being alone and getting lost. All I needed on a day like this would be to ride an extra twenty or thirty miles, mostly in circles, searching for the route home. Unfortunately, I was getting gapped on each little hill, slowly coming off the, helpless to do much of anything to change my situation, but still fighting to retain contact. The hills were sharp and steep, most necessitating a gear change down to the 39/25, my smallest choice, and coming with a relentlessness, much as the switchbacks had appeared earlier, but then I heard some guys talking about the next big climb, Green River Cove!
Rafting On The Green River? Not Today!
Climbing Green River Cove
Then the pack, or at least what remained of it, slowed down, ostensibly to conserve energy before the next monster climb and I no longer feared getting dropped, but soon, the road swung up again, and we found ourselves in a veritable jungle of switchbacks, much like White Oak Mountain, only by now I was completely exhausted and fighting just to keep the bike upright and moving forward. "Beating" anyone or "winning" was no longer an issue. The important thing was to just get over this thing and keep cranking. Luckily, it was half the distance of White Oak, a mere two miles, but probably just as steep, and as I groaned and huffed and struggled through the switchbacks, I realized that my world, my perceptions, were shrinking down, I could no longer think of anything except cresting that mountain and I could see and hear virtually nothing that was happening around me. I like to think this was because I was grimly determined and completely focused on this amazing athletic event, like a pro riding the Pyrenees in a great tour, but now, in retrospect, I understand that I'd become oblivious because I was exhausted, completely wasted, and all I could manage, and just barely at that, was to remain standing on my pedals.
Heading Toward Old Indian Mountain
Somewhere around the sixty-two or sixty-four mile mark I was dropped for good and forced to solo in for the last twenty miles. I did ride briefly with a younger fellow, who smiled wickedly and informed me that there was still one big climb remaining, "Camp Old Indian." Somehow, I began to think that the better riders were actually sadists and took their pleasure from seeing other guys struggle and eventually collapse--this thing was clearly diabolical!
Anyway, I limped in and finished the thing: 83 Miles in five hours!
***Marquis de Sade***
So, you think the riding where you live is too easy? Maybe you sit on a wheel and jump out at the end to pip the other guys in the sprint, or maybe you're the big guy on your club or team. USCF racing getting too easy? How about the local centuries? Too easy, huh? So many guys, so many good wheels, just sit in and look good. Then brag to your girlfriend; tell her how strong you are and how well you rode. Tell her how you humiliated the other guys and made them look foolish, in front of their girlfriends and wives. Well, I've got the ride for you! Come and do the Marquis de Sade. Let's see how you do, sport. Better bring plenty of Hammer Gel and make sure you've got the right gearing.
The buzzards are circling on White Oak Mountain and they're waiting for you!
Bar-be-Cue For Some- Beans For Some!
Dear Paul-Dear Michael
Paul- Sorry about that. I had written this account of Saturday's ride for Elisabeth and sent you and Michael a copy. But it's good you deleted because it gives me an opportunity to proof read and make some important changes. I had not really written this thing for general consumption, but now with the deletion of typos and the changes it's more readable. I'm not exaggerating when I say this was one tough ride, and that's not just because I'm getting older. This would be a tough ride for Lance Armstrong and his crew. It's raining again and that usually means colder weather for a few days once it stops. Just a pattern up here. I'm off the bike in order to recover, but I may go for an easy ride tomorrow, if there is such a thing as easy, considering the terrain. Michael says he did this ride with Jane a few years back and there was a bad crash coming off White Oak. Not hard to imagine that. I can't recall ever doing a sub-four hour century. I know we did a 4:06 on the Cross-State about twenty-five years ago, but it was in a good, strong pack, plus we had a tailwind. The Cross-Florida is "difficult," but that has a different meaning when compared to "difficult" in the upstate. Difficult could be the riding is hard and fast and it tires one out. Or maybe you have to pay particular attention not to overlap wheels on a lightening-fast century where everyone gets a little careless towards the end... But the riding here is in a different category and there is simply no way to really compare the two.
Michael- I just revised and rewrote my account of the Marquis de Sade. The old version had not been proof read and was loaded with typos, etc. I made some changes for the better, so feel free to use this article any way you wish. I did not know you rode this thing with Jane. So there was a crash coming off White Oak, was there? I practically walked down that thing. Anyway, I was really, really impressed with the difficulty of riding in the upstate. I always knew that was a good place for training. God knows, enough pros lived and rode there, and I mean years and years before Hincapie. Do you recall the name, Skip Spangenburg? We've got a few monsters in North Carolina, such as Paint Gap, Caldwell, that crazy thing off the Toe River/Cane Creek loop, but nothing of the likes of what they've got down there! I don't know if it is because the gradients are rising high from a lower elevation, or what, but that White Oak was pretty darn steep, in anyone's book! The toughest of the tough. I'm a bit perturbed that my dear Campy does not make a 27 tooth cog for their compliment of cassettes. What gives with that anyway? Shimano and Sram have the 27 and lots of guys ride it around here. The best Campy offers is 13/29, but what the crap am I going to do with a blasted thirteen?! I'll get dropped on that thing for sure. It's just not enough gear inch for a plugger like me. Do you know of any after market cassette-makers that are compatible Campagnolo? What about using a Shimano rear wheel and Campagnolo spacers? I used to do that with an eight-speed about ten or twelve years ago, but the ten's may be too finicky for that. What do you think? I've had Campy on bikes beginning with my Moto Becane in 1973 and to say I am devoted to Campy is an understatement, but this is ridiculous. I don't wish to convert to a compact for two reasons: 1) Expense and having to change over a bunch of stuff. 2) I need way bigger gears in Florida and I spend at least half my time down there. Anyway, keep those pedals turning! Bob
I'm little out of the loop as I'm no longer in retail. I'll do some research though. You have two frames right? If so -you have to dress one out for Florida and one for the mountains. I know you have a loyalty for Campy. Does Campy have a loyalty for you.
I have to recommend the "compact" for Mitchell. It's climbing all day.
It's less than 60 shopping days till the Assault On Mt. Mitchell!
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